Whether you're in a convenience store in Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina, Mexico City or East L.A., you're likely to hear cumbia blaring from a stereo. In Latin America, no musical style has been as widespread, unifying and, I would argue, misunderstood as cumbia.
Gustavo Cordera, of the Argentine rock group La Bersuit Vergarabat, once said in an interview: "Latin rock feels jealous of cumbia music." He was on to something: Cumbia is the musical backbone of the continent. The first time I really listened to cumbia, as a teenager, it was like running my own fingers down the backbone of my identity. These vertebrae, aligned in a 2/4 beat, had always been there; they were hard and unmovable. Cumbia. And something else I wouldn't be able to define until I left my country: Latinidad. Latin-ness.